Amanda Knox's conviction and 26-year prison sentence for the murder and sexual assault of her British roommate early today in Italy sparked celebration in Italian streets and left the exchange student's family and friends sobbing and stunned, both at home in Seattle and abroad.
PERUGIA, Italy —
Amanda Knox’s conviction and 26-year prison sentence for the murder and sexual assault of her British roommate sparked celebration in Italian streets and left her family and friends sobbing and stunned, both at home in Seattle and abroad.
Two years after Meredith Kercher, 21, was killed and Knox and her one-time Italian boyfriend were arrested and jailed, Knox’s battle for freedom headed sharply uphill.
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Knox’s father, Curt Knox, asked if he would fight on for his daughter, replied, with tears in his eyes: “Hell, yes.”
As the judge read the verdict in front of a crush of family members and media shortly after midnight Saturday in Perugia, the 22-year-old former University of Washington student wept and murmured, “No, no.”
Knox’s family also broke down in tears. Her sister, Deanna Knox, collapsed and sobbed on the courtroom floor.
After several minutes, Amanda Knox was pulled from her mother, Edda Mellas, and was returned to custody.
Ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito also was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years. The Times of London reported that Knox and Sollecito were ordered to pay about $7.4 million to Kercher’s family.
Prosecutors had sought life imprisonment, Italy’s stiffest sentence, for both defendants for the Nov. 1, 2007, slaying of Kercher. Her body was found with her throat slit in a bedroom of an apartment she shared with Knox. Courts often give less-severe punishment than prosecutors demand.
Knox’s 26-year sentence actually was a good sign for her appeal, said Alessandro Canali, an Italian attorney who isn’t connected to the Knox case.
In contrast, he noted, Rudy Guede — an Ivory Coast citizen earlier found guilty of murdering and sexually assaulting Kercher — was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Guede had opted for a “fast-track” trial, which defendants can choose in exchange for a sentence one-third of the maximum.
“She got four years less without the benefit of the short trial,” said Canali, a foreign-law consultant in Seattle who practices law in Rome. “Someone on the jury thought she was not on the same level as Guede.”
Still, Knox will be in prison for up to two years while attorneys appeal her conviction, a process that will not begin for at least 90 days.
An Italian appeals trial is conducted the same as the original trial, complete with jury. More evidence can be presented or requested. A newly appointed prosecutor could even ask for acquittal, Canali said.
In addition to the murder and sexual-assault charges, the eight-member jury — including two judges — also found Knox and Sollecito guilty of unlawful possession of a weapon (a knife that prosecutors claim was involved in the murder), of staging a crime scene and of burglary. Prosecutors contended that the three had faked a burglary to cover up the murder.
Italian juries have only to reach majority consensus. Each of the eight jurors imposes a sentence they believe proper, from life down to acquittal, Canali said. The ultimate sentence given is the maximum that at least five of the jurors will support.
Knox also was found guilty of defamation, for having initially blamed the murder on her former boss in a bar where she worked. Knox was ordered to pay him about $60,000.
Kercher’s family’s lawyer, Francesco Maresca, said they were satisfied with the verdict, which came after 13 hours of deliberation.
“They got the justice they were expecting,” he told London’s The Daily Mail. “We got what we were hoping for.” But he acknowledged that the defendants’ loved ones were also pained: “There is deep suffering on all sides.”
Defense lawyers have described Knox, who made the dean’s list at the UW, as a smart and cheerful woman.
Brett Lither, who has known Knox since third grade, recently returned from Perugia, where she surprised her friend with four visits. Now she’s trying to wrap herself around the idea that her friend won’t be coming home soon.
“You prepare yourself for any outcome, but when it actually happens you realize there is no way to prepare,” Lither said. “It’s shocking every time I say it.”
Prosecutors depicted Knox as promiscuous and manipulative, with a personality that clashed with her roommate’s. They said Knox had come to hate Kercher.
Knox said Kercher was a friend whose slaying shocked and saddened her.
According to Maria Rossi, co-director of the polling firm Opinioni, a majority of Italians have believed Knox guilty since early in the case, when a flurry of media coverage focused on her MySpace nickname of “Foxy Knoxy,” her experiments with drugs and her sexual acumen.
“The number has come down some in the lead up to the final verdict, but those who believe her guilty still remains above 60 percent,” Rossi said.
During the trial, the most intimate details of Knox’s life were examined, from her hygiene — allegedly a point of contention with Kercher — to her sex life, even including a sex toy.
Madison Paxton, Knox’s college friend, said: “They’re convicting a made-up person. They’re convicting ‘Foxy Knoxy.’ That’s not Amanda.”
A group of Perugia youths who gathered outside the courthouse shouted insults and “assassin” at the Knox entourage as her supporters walked in to hear the verdict. After the verdict was read, large crowds gathered outside chanted, “Twenty-six years! Twenty-six years!”
Even in Rome, 125 miles south of Perugia, drivers honked their car horns repeatedly, a practice usually reserved for major soccer games.
Canali said he doesn’t believe the notoriety surrounding the case affected the decision. “This kind of thing happens to Italian people all the time,” he said.
The trial spanned more than 50 hearings and dozens of witnesses. Prosecutors contended that on the night of the murder, Knox and Sollecito were at the apartment with Kercher and Guede.
The prosecution said Knox and Kercher started arguing, and that Knox joined the two men in attacking and sexually assaulting the Briton under “the fumes of drugs and possibly alcohol.”
Knox gave contradictory versions of the night of the slaying, saying at one point she was home and had to cover her ears to block out Kercher’s screams, and accusing a Congolese man of the killing. The man, Patrick Diya Lumumba, owner of the bar in Perugia where Knox worked, was jailed briefly but later cleared.
Knox later contended that police pressure led her to accuse an innocent man.
Seattle Times staff reporters Marc Ramirez and Craig Welch, and freelance writer Eric J. Lyman in Italy contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press and The New York Times is included in this report.